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Milwaukee Brewers sign Jesus Castillo to minor league contract with Spring Training invite

He’s a right-handed pitcher who was previously on the Angels’ 40-man roster.

MLB: FEB 19 Los Angeles Angels Photo Day Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While we continue to wait for the Milwaukee Brewers to make an impact addition this offseason, the front office keeps adding depth pieces around the roster. Earlier today it was reported that the Brewers have agreed to a minor league pact with right-handed pitcher Jesus Castillo that includes an invitation to big league camp in Spring Training.

Castillo, who just turned 24 this past August, began his professional career in 2011 when he signed with the Diamondbacks as an international free agent out of Venezuela. He made his debut in the Dominican Summer League the following season, but that wound up being his only action in Arizona’s system as he was dealt to the Cubs as part of the package for Tony Campana prior to the start of Spring Training in 2013. Castillo spent that year in the now-defunct Venezuelan Summer League before finally coming stateside and pitching in the complex-level Arizona League during 2014 and 2015.

Castillo took a big step forward in 2016, making 13 total starts between short-season Eugene and — after getting traded again midseason to the Angels for reliever Joe Smith — Class-A Burlington while compiling 62.2 innings with a 2.87 ERA and marks of 8.8 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. He was outstanding once again in 2017, advancing across three levels from A-ball to Class A-Advanced to Double-A by the end of the year. All together he totaled 25 appearances (24 starts) and accumulated a career-high 124.2 innings pitched with a 3.32 earned run average. He struck out 118 batters (8.5 K/9) against a mere 26 walks for a sterling 1.9 BB/9 average, all at the tender age of 21. That was enough to convince Los Angeles to add him to their 40-man roster in November 2017 in order to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Jesus returned to Double-A Mobile for the 2018 season but his development took a major step backwards. Castillo’s ability to miss bats vanished as he averaged only 5.5 K/9 in 98.1 innings, and his 2.8 BB/9 represented the highest total he had posted since escaping rookie ball. Castillo entered the year ranked as a top-20 prospect within the Angels’ system, but much of the luster wore off of his prospect star after he completed the campaign with a 4.94 ERA.

The Angels successfully outrighted Castillo off of their 40-man roster early on during the 2019 season, but that didn’t stop him from having a successful bounce back campaign. He began the year back in the starting rotation for Anaheim’s Double-A affiliate and though he was successful in that role — a 3.00 ERA in 12 starts — he was shifted to a swingman spot in the bullpen in mid-June. He finished out the year by posting a 2.14 ERA and two saves in 26 relief appearances, experiencing a significant uptick in his strikeout rate from 6.3 K/9 as a starter up to 9.1 K/9. In total, Jesus worked 99.2 frames and finished with a 2.71 ERA, 80 strikeouts, and 26 walks (2.3 BB/9). He departed via minor league free agency after the conclusion of the season.

According to a scouting report from AngelsWin at the outlet The Sports Daily, Castillo was slow to develop physically but he has grown two inches, gained 25 pounds, and boosted his velocity by some five miles per hour since becoming a professional. His heater still grades out as only an average pitch, though, coming across the plate between 89-91 MPH with a top speed around 92-93. According to Baseball America’s report prior to the 2018 season, the pitch features “heavy sink that breaks a lot of bats and induces plenty of ground balls,” as evidenced by grounder rates consistently around or above 50%. His off-speed pitches — a mid-70s curveball and a low-80s changeup — both profile as average-ish offerings as well. Neither “are true swing-and-miss pitches, but he throws them for strikes consistently,” per BA.

Jesus has consistently drawn praise for his loose arm, good extension, and a deceptive, repeatable high three-quarters delivery that helps him pitch consistently in and around the strike zone. As Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs wrote in 2018, “[h]is windup has a pause not unlike that of many prominent Japanese players from the early 2000s, and he finishes strong far down the mound with grace and fluidity.” Longenhagen adds that Castillo’s lack of velocity hasn’t made him afraid to attack hitters ‘up’ around the letters, and that he could have above-average command of his cache of pitches at maturity.

Castillo possesses a starter’s repertoire with three average-or-slightly-better offerings along with 50-to-55 command of the strike zone, and he profiles as a ground ball-inducing back-end starter if he returns to the rotation. Some scouts believe that his best bet to make it to the big leagues may be in relief, where he can place greater emphasis on his sinking fastball and a curveball that features “good snap.” Castillo could be useful to the Brewers in either role, as they are thin on quality upper-level depth in both the rotation and bullpen. If Milwaukee does eventually add Jesus to the 40-man roster, he has two minor league options remaining and could serve as a shuttle reliever or a spot starter as soon as the upcoming 2020 season.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs